Detroit Lions GM Martin Mayhew is drawing Matt Millen comparisons from fans and media who don't quite understand what was accomplished on day two of the 2011 NFL Draft.
The Lions selected Titus Young (WR Boise State) at No. 44 and then traded up with their favorite trading partners—the Seattle Seahawks—to select Mikel LeShoure, the second best back in the draft according to many draft analysts.
The outcry after both picks was both loud, dissonant and mostly off-key.
While fans have been waiting for linebackers, cornerbacks and offensive linemen, the Detroit Lions have drafted a defensive tackle (Nick Fairley), a receiver and a running back. According to many fans, this is a grim miscarriage of justice worth of the worst adjective a Lions fan can muster—Millen-esque.
Fans Claiming This Pick Had Matt Millen's Fingerprints All Over it
Does it? Does it really?
Fans like to think that Millen's fault was the positions he picked (most notably receiver), but that isn't the case at all. Charles Rogers' problem was not that he was a receiver, but rather that he was addicted to marijuana and ended up injury prone. Mike Williams' problem was not that he was a receiver, but that he didn't enjoy playing football as much as eating.
Matt Millen didn't miss on draft picks because he picked certain positions. He missed because he wasn't a smart or diligent scout of talent.
In three years, Martin Mayhew has proved he is—except in two cases.
This isn't the first time Mayhew has drafted a No. 3 wide receiver and a backup running back. In his first year, Mayhew drafted Derrick Williams and Aaron Brown. Both of those young men are on the last legs of their NFL careers and may be done with the Lions altogether.
The Lions have the same exact needs at those positions today that they did in 2009.
Of course, the difference in 2011 is that the Lions invested higher picks in those positions rather than hoping someone they liked fell to them in a later round.
Rather than assuming the picks will bust just because Millen's picks did, give them a chance to contribute. Matt Stafford has not been "the next Joey Harrington" anymore than DeAndre Levy was "the next Boss Bailey."
The Lions Needed A Wide Receiver
Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams have split duties as the third receiver and combined for 21 catches for 240 yards and zero touchdowns in 2010.
Moreover, because of the lack of talent at wide receiver, the Lions were forced too often to use personnel sub-sets that lacked the explosiveness and speed they want to exude.
What good is Matt Stafford's arm with two running backs and three tight ends on the field?
In the 2010 draft, the Lions put a premium on getting a running back (Jahvid Best) who could hit a home run on any throw. In 2011, the Lions went with a receiver who can take the top off of any coverage.
Titus Young has been called "DeSean Jackson-lite" by more than a few draft analysts. His ability to run off coverage deep will further open up the field for Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and the tight ends.
Bryant Johnson, Williams, Brian Clark, Michael Moore and Tim Toone are all extremely unlikely to contribute meaningful snaps to the Detroit Lions in 2011.
Titus Young will.
The Lions Needed A Running Back Too
Aaron Brown has never been the back that the Lions expected him to be when he was drafted out of Texas Christian. In fact, he's never been close.
For every good play Brown has made, he's made multiple bad plays—running the wrong way or the wrong route, missing blocks, dropping passes. It was assumed Brown would get better. Instead, he's seemingly regressed.
In the Matt Millen era, picks like Brown would have stuck around long after their usefulness had run out. Remember Brian Calhoun anyone?
Now, even if Brown remains on the roster, he won't be counted on for much-needed yardage.
Mikel LeShoure is a perfect complementary back to Jahvid Best. Fans assumed the Lions were looking at short-yardage/FB types to get the easy one yard at the goal line. Fans were only half right though.
The new-look Lions value size, yes. The new-look Lions also value speed—game breaking speed that can turn 3rd-and-1 into a 20-yard scamper.
Aaron Brown supposedly had the speed, but he was more apt to turn 3rd-and-1 into 3rd-and-2.
Mikel LeShoure has ability to get both small and large chunks of yardage. His ability to both outrun and out-maneuver defenders has been prized by many analysts this offseason. He runs with a level of reckless abandon that has reminded many of either Steven Jackson or (fellow Illini) Rashard Mendenall.
On the Lions roster, LeShoure provides an immediate upgrade over Maurice Morris (who will be 32 this season), Brown, Ian Johnson, Kevin Smith (who may leave in free agency), and Jerome Felton (who has been ineffective in short yardage.)
So, with two picks, Mayhew has filled two roles the Lions sorely needed in 2010.
What About Cornerback and Linebacker?
Yes, those are needs for the Lions, no one should deny that.
Just, understand what the NFL Draft is for and how the Lions new front office views the NFL Draft. The NFL Draft is a longterm building plan. Free agency is how a team fills immediate needs.
It does a team zero good to draft an inferior player as a stop gap because he is marginally better than the worst player on your roster.
In the end, the only "need" any team should be looking to fill in any draft is raising the overall talent level of the team. For most teams, needs help set the board and needs help break ties, but few teams would ever admit to drafting a lower graded player.
Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz took over a team that went 0-16 and have (by all accounts) vastly improved the talent level—taking a tight end (Brandon Pettigrew) when many wanted a tackle; a safety (Louis Delmas) when many wanted a linebacker and a quarterback (Matthew Stafford) when many wanted yet another linebacker.
Those picks have all worked out.
The Lions are fully aware they need at least one starting-caliber corner and one starting-caliber linebacker. They just didn't draft one.
With the many free agents and lopsided trades Mayhew has made, does it really worry anyone that something can't get done?
Besides, don't worry, the day is coming when he will probably take a cornerback or linebacker when the consensus need is [insert position here.]
That's how it's worked so far, why would any of us expect anything to change?
Michael Schottey is an on-call editor for the Bleacher Report College Writing Internship, as well as an NFL Featured Columnist and an NFL Labor/Draft Expert. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, he has professionally covered the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the Scouting Combine and the Senior Bowl. Follow him on Twitter.
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